Author: SuperSet Software
One of the coolest things about text-mode games is the way so many of them are steeped in computing history. A number of great software companies—3D Realms and Epic Games, to name two—got their start by selling text-mode games. But did you know that the computer industry giant Novell Inc. also began life as an unassuming little text-mode game?
Back in the fall of 1981, three friends from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah formed a consulting group named SuperSet Software. Their first big assignment was at a hardware company then known as Novell Data Systems. Novell asked the SuperSet partners—Drew Major, Kyle Powell, and Dale Neibaur—to network the CP/M hardware Novell was selling at the time. SuperSet obliged Novell’s request, but privately they had become convinced that CP/M was a doomed platform.
In November 1981, Drew Major bought one of the very first IBM PCs to hit the market, and SuperSet began looking for ways to connect the PC to their CP/M network. The local area network (LAN), a heterogeneous system of PCs connected by a common data transmission medium, was born. They needed only one thing more to prove their concept: an application that could be used to test the network and demonstrate its capabilities. The application they wrote for that purpose was a text-mode game called Snipes.
Within two years of the creation of Snipes, Novell Data Systems had transformed into Novell Inc., Ray Noorda had taken over as CEO, 1984 had been declared the “Year of the LAN”, and Novell was well on its way to becoming a billion-dollar company. By the early 1990s, Snipes had been bundled with Novell Netware and distributed to thousands of Novell LANs all over the world, which is how most people, myself included, came to know it.
When you play Snipes, know that you are holding a small piece of history in your hands. Not only was it one of the very first network applications ever written, it is also the ancient precursor of multiplayer games like Counter-Strike and Halo that are so popular today. They may not want to admit it now, but I am quite certain that Drew Major and Kyle Powell played the world’s first over-the-network “deathmatch” with Snipes, using the software that was to become Novell Netware, nearly thirty years ago. How’s that for a little history?
In recent years, several of the founders of Novell have spoken publicly about Snipes and its place in the history of the company.
- Jack Messman, the former CEO of Novell, did an interview with novellmuseum.net in which he discussed Snipes and its connection with the founding of Novell.
- Snipes was officially credited as being the original inspiration for Netware in the Third Quarter 2003 issue of The Novell Report (pg. 10).
- Most recently, Drew Major told Network World the full story of how he and his SuperSet partners developed Snipes alongside the first PC network.
Thank you, Drew Major and Jack Messman, for shedding some more light on the history of this game.
Snipes is remarkably well behaved for a thirty-year-old program. I have tested it on modern PCs running several versions of Windows and it appears to work just fine on all of them. If you try to launch it from Windows Explorer, you might get a message “not a valid Win32 application”, but that’s all right, just open a command window and run it from the command line, or use DOSBox.
Snipes does, however, leave something to be desired where usability is concerned. One problem is that, when you start the game, you will be asked to enter a skill level ranging from A1 through Z9. Unfortunately, no explanation is given of which levels correspond to which game options. A quick investigation revealed the following:
- Beginner level, no advanced options
- Add rubber bullets
- Add ghost snipes
- Add electrified walls
- Everything above + deadliest snipes and ghosts
The numbers correspond to the difficulty level within a certain option set. For example, entering J1 will start a game with the options of rubber bullets and ghosts snipes, and a skill level of three snipe generators and five lives. Entering Z9 starts a game with all options turned on, and a skill level of ten snipes generators and only two lives.
A second problem is that there is no explanation of the control keys. Movement is controlled by the standard cursor keys: Up, Down, Left, and Right. You can hold down more than one cursor key at a time for diagonal movement, and if you hold down the spacebar while moving, your speed is doubled. F1 toggles the sound on and off. The firing keys are as follows:
As with the movement keys, you can hold down two firing keys at once for diagonal shots, and if the rubber bullets option is turned on, the diagonal shots will bounce off the walls and around corners, which is very useful for wiping out clusters of snipes from a safe hiding place.
The last usability problem is that there are only two ways to exit the game: 1) by using up all your lives, or 2) by pressing CTRL+Break. The game does not respond to the ESC key, so remember to press CTRL+Break when you want to stop playing.
One more thing: the version of Snipes I am distributing here is the original version from 1982, with the SuperSet Software name on the title screen. The later version that was distributed with Netware (called nlsnipes), can be downloaded here.